- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) - A second group of Cuban migrants was traveling through Central America toward the United States on Friday after being stranded in Costa Rica for months when Nicaragua closed its border to them.

The group of about 180 migrants flew the previous night to El Salvador and continued north by land, with Guatemalan human rights officials accompanying them to Mexico.

Mexican immigration officials said they would be issued humanitarian transit visas giving them 20 days in the country. Cuban migrants generally use that time to travel to the United States, where unique policies for Cubans let them stay and enjoy other benefits.

Nearly 8,000 Cuban migrants got stuck in Costa Rica after Nicaragua began refusing passage to them in November.

Authorities airlifted a first group out Jan. 12 in a pilot program that is now being repeated for the rest. Seven more flights are planned for this month.

So far the Cubans’ route bypassing Nicaragua has consisted of airlifts from Costa Rica to El Salvador and then bus journeys through Guatemala to southern Mexico.

Costa Rica’s Foreign Ministry announced Friday that direct flights to Mexico will be made available to the Cubans this month at a cost of $790 per person, compared with the $545 trips carried out until now.

Cuba has seen a sharp rise in outward migration as Havana and Washington repair diplomatic ties that were strained for over five decades. Many islanders making the journey say they chose to emigrate now for fear that the thaw could bring an end to the U.S. immigration rules that benefit them, although U.S. officials say no change is imminent.

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said Friday that it processed 2,259 Cubans who presented themselves at migratory offices between Jan. 1 and Feb. 4, compared with 12,102 for all of last year.

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Associated Press writers Javier Cordoba in San Jose, Costa Rica, and Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed.

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